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The last original album by Leftfield, released in 1999. The cover features a photograph of a suit of samurai armour on a black background. The music is a hybrid of progressive house, dub, ambient, electro, and soul, in approximately that order. It took three years to record. It spawned three singles (Afrika Shox/Phat Planet, Dusted and Swords) and was followed up with a remix album (Stealth Remixes).

The record generally isn't seen as being as radical a step forward as 1995's Leftism was, but then I guess Leftism didn't have a forebear to live up to. R&S does not feature as obvious stylistic contrasts as its predecessor- the disparate influences are still in play, but they are now moulded into a more consistent structure, so the end result feels less like a grab bag of ideas and more like a coherent whole.

A music press quote at the time of the album's release said something like 'Leftfield are in complete command of their sound'. This fairly accurately sums up the overall impression gained from listening to Rhythm and Stealth. Every part of every track sounds like it has been polished and tweaked until there is nothing out of place. As might be expected of an album by two percussionists, drums (well, drum machines) play a prominent role in the record's sound. Most tracks have a driving, signature bassline into which multiple layers of percussion and crisp, filtered synth loops are interwoven. For the most part this is not a record about catchy tunes, it's geared towards creating very powerful, evocative grooves. (It's not called Melody and Stealth.) I have had the pleasure of listening to this record many times over on a powerful sound system,* which allowed it to be appreciated as intended.

Once again Leftfield have roped in a number of collaborators to distinctively voice the different moods and styles used in several tracks. The opener (Dusted) features a rallying, freestyle rap by Roots Manuva, demanding the listener's attention and espousing the value of self-belief and perseverance against the odds. ("The seeds of progress them done get sow / My tough back broke the cane in four.") This is immediately followed by the pounding, crunchy tattoo of Phat Planet (the track used in the celebrated, Moby Dick-quoting, horses-and-waves Guinness advertisment).

Next is the extremely laid back and dubby Chant of a Poor Man, where Cheshire Cat (a 'toaster'- reggae-influenced singer/rapper- who sounds like a middle-aged Jamaican, but is in fact a gangly white bloke from Birmingham) delivers another lyric about solidarity in the face of adversary (and smoking weed). Then we have Double Flash, an uptempo and snappy drum workout, followed by the first major departure in style on the record, the minimalist, dreamlike pulsing of El Cid.

Now (providing we haven't put El Cid on repeat play and gotten progressively, innovatively stoned) the record gets a second wind with the remarkable Afrika Shox. Afrika Bambaataa is the perfect ambassador to drag straight-up electro funk kicking and screaming into the 21st century. ("Z-U-L-U / That's the way you spell ZULU.")

Dub Gussett slows things down again with a plodding, metallic-sounding groove interspersed with analogue bleeps and whistles, which segues into the very excellent Swords, perhaps my favourite track on the album. An ultra-minimal electro beat peaks under a blanket of textured, atmospheric synth, backing a haunting, soulful female vocal. (A possible ninjagirls anthem?) 6-8 War returns to the listenable-but-difficult-to-write-about-interestingly formula of Double Flash. (Trivia fact: it was also licensed for use in the Bitmap Brothers' Playstation game, Speedball 2100.) The record closes with Rino's Prayer (just one of the tracks that has drawn accusations of a lazy titling policy), which manages to be even more chilled than anything previous, the Italian singer's lament echoing over the rooftops. Sleep beckons.

track listing

  1. Dusted feat. Roots Manuva
  2. Phat Planet
  3. Chant of a Poor Man feat. Cheshire Cat
  4. Double Flash
  5. El Cid
  6. Afrika Shox feat. Afrika Bambaataa
  7. Dub Gussett
  8. Swords feat. Nicole Willis
  9. 6-8 War
  10. Rino's Prayer feat. Rino della Volpe
*Thank you Bryn.

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